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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Choosing to be Childless, Is It Selfish?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 3rd 2010

Choosing to be Childless, Is It Selfish?The usual order of things is that people meet one another, fall in love, become engaged and marry. One of the oldest customs at the wedding ceremony is to throw rice after the vows are taken. Today, due to environmental considerations, we use substitutes for rice . Regardless of whether it's rice or some alternative substance, the purpose is the same. It's a symbol of fertility. The message is clear from the outset. Society expects the couple to have children.

After the wedding, couples face pressure to procreate in a number of ways. Parents and in laws make it perfectly clear that they want grandchildren. The way this is communicated may be direct or indirect. Directly, there are those family members who straight out ask the couple when they plan to have children, or "Isn't it time already?" Others make more subtle hints, such as asking when the couple plans to purchase a home with more room than they now have. They may use such terms as "the clock is ticking." This is usually directed at the wife. Friends who are married and pregnant or who already have children may ask similar questions about having a child. The point is that very strong pressure is exerted on the couple to "start having a family."

But what if the couple opts to not have children? Let's clarify. It's not that they are infertile. It's not that one or both have some type of physiological problem that renders them unable to have children. The fact is that they are fully capable of procreating but choose not to. Today, there are more couples than ever who make this choice. In fact, some of them go so far as to have surgery to render themselves infertile. For a man, this means a vasectomy and for a woman, a tubal ligation.

Are these couples being selfish by not having children? Why would they make such a choice? What motivates them? Doesn't marriage mean having children?

It is tempting to believe that a life without children is chosen because people think of themselves as being unfit for parenthood. For example, they may experience too much depression or mental illness to safely raise a family. Or, they may have serious addiction problems, an angry temperament, etc. While a few people may make this choice because they know they would be unfit to raise children, for most this is not true. Rather than being unfit, they would make wonderful parents. They have plenty of money, patience, confidence, warmth and love to raise happy kids. Yet they choose not to.

There are many motivating factors for choosing not to have kids. These people make this decision because they feel very strongly about it. In fact, many of them reject the use of the term "childless" and prefer "childfree" because it has less of a judgmental tone to it and better expresses their sentiments.

Among the couples who choose a childfree way of life, there are those who express the fact that they do not wish to be tied down with the chores and responsibilities of raising a family. They know, from their own childhood experiences, that having children means delaying careers, travel, hobbies, exploration and other sought after life experiences.

One individual put it this way:

"I just don't want the hassle. Changing diapers and chauffeuring a kid all over town just isn't for me." Many childfree couples explain their decision in just this way. They don't want the exhaustion that comes with having children. They don't want to get up in the middle of the night to feed and care for an infant. They don't want to have to stay at home when their child is sick with a cold or sore throat. They don't want to spend money on child care and pre school when they work. In fact, they argue that there is no point in having children if you are not going to be home to raise them. They point out the fact that their sisters or brothers who have children are under pressure all the time because the demands of parenthood are relentless. Instead, they prefer to have the stability and peace that comes with being childfree. They explain that this also gives them the opportunity to enjoy their marriages without having to cope with the distractions presented by children.

Others are motivated by political and environmental factors. For example, they cite the increasing problem of over population around the world and do not want to add to the problem. They cite the growing number of poverty stricken and starving youngsters around the world. They don't wish to adopt. They simply don't want to add to the problem, at least, as they see it.

One of the greatest catalysts for not having children is the women's liberation movement. While nothing much is heard about this any longer, it continues to exert influence over how women see their roles in life. In these cases, men and women are rejecting what they see as the stereotyping of how the genders are supposed to live. Women are groomed to become pregnant and give birth. Men are expected to father and raise children with their wives.

In contrast to these traditional male and female roles, women are now able to have professional careers once reserved only for men. The 1950's family structure of the woman being at home in the suburbs, raising the children, while their husbands earned a living for the entire family no longer exists. Today women becomelawyers, MD's, veterinarians, business people, managers and business owners. In this scenario, husband and wife each have a professional or business life and the combined wealth that accompanies it.

Of course there are those who ask childfree people why they married if they had no intent of having children? The responses to this query are varied but one of them is that they love their spouse and want to spend their lives together. Therefore, why shouldn't they marry, even they choose not to raise a family?

As for the often voiced argument, "someday you will regret this decision," they respond that they have no regrets. This is asserted even by those who have reached old age. They point out that they have lived happy and productive lives and were also free to enjoy all the things life had to offer.

What are your opinions about choosing to be childfree? Are these people being selfish? Shouldn't people who have the means and the temperament to raise a family have children? Isn't there a religious imperative to marry in order to have children, whether you are Christian, Jewish, Catholic or Muslim?

Your opinions and comments about this sensitive and controversial issue are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


For those readers who may be interested there is a website for people who choose to be child free. It can be found at the following URL:

http://www.childfreebychoice.com

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    Family history - Scott - Dec 7th 2010

    My wife and I struggled for years if we should have children.  We both love children, but we had some very real concerns about what our offspring could face.  You see, there is a long list of physical illnesses that frequent both sides of our families and our thought process was that we would unnecessarily put an innocent child at risk of developing one of these diseases (i.e. diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, MS, breast cancer, colon cancer).  When we would relay these concerns to family, they were suprisingly understanding.  There were other things at play as well.  I was scared to death to bring a child into the world in which we live.  My parents were children of the fifties and times were a lot slower back then.  By the time I was an adult, I had been exposed to things that that my parents had not experienced in the entirety of their lives.  Thinking about this, I often wondered aloud as to the types of things to which my child would be exposed that I had not experienced.  There was also the issue of my father being an alchoholic with a tendency toward physical abuse.  Studies have shown that both abuse and alchoholism run in families.  I have never had an alcohol problem, but was afraid of what I may do to a child in a stressful situation although I've never been abusive to anyone in my life.  August of this year, my wife and I celebrated the birth of our daughter.  We chose to have a child in spite of these things.  We are both really healthy and take good care of our bodies, which led us to believe that would could reduce the likelihood of most of our disease worries.  My wife grew up in a house in which she was loved, nurtured, and appreciated.  She convinced me that if we raise our child in a stable environment, then those things that can come up (drugs) can be dealt with appropriately by our child.  Lastly, I went to therapy about my "daddy issues" and I am in a great place.  I know that I am going to be the daddy to my daughter that my father never was to me.  After all, he is the perfect example of what not to do.

    We live in an absurd world - Christina Sponias - Dec 6th 2010

    I wanted very much to have a child and I’m glad because I have a son. However, I realize that the world where we live is so problematic that perhaps giving birth to another human life is not a good idea. So, I cannot condemn those who decide not to have children. Our problematic historical time and our depressed civilization are not indications that we live in a place where a family can live happily. It breeds an environment of conflict and strife.  

    oops ! - marcs - Dec 5th 2010

    People always seem to have a serious problem knowing when something is their business. Deciding to start a family is between mom and dad, and no one else !! period. Family and friends need to "but out" of other family members business ! I have one son who is now 22 yrs. old. His mother and I met through work back in 1987..I worked at that time as a service tech for a copier company home based in Chicago, I was also a part-time paramedic..I met my son's mother through the part-time job. She was a full-time Paramedic. Neither one of us had any intentions of getting married or having children.. To me, I never wanted kids for various reasons. I didn't want to bring an innocent life into this severly messed up world of ours, to watch that kid suffer with all the worries that plague so many of us...I viewed it as cruel and unusual. In November of 87, my friend got pregnant..Oops ! How did that happen ?? She was on oral birth control, we were both in the medical business, and not ignorant about birth controll. well as it turns out around that time, she got very sick, and went on an antibiotic..We were later told by her OB GYN that the antibiotics reduced the effectiveness of the birth controll she was taking... In Jan 88 we got married, in Aug 88, She delivered a health baby boy..Wow how life changed after that..I quit the Copier job, and started a business with a friend..During the early part of 1990 she started up a relationship "on the side" with one of her Paramedic partners at work. She split in Oct. 1990..For the next 111/2 years I lived through pure hell..I finally got legal, and physical custody of my son in Feb. 2002..When I moved him to my house, I enrolled him in school..This was his 19th school.!! All the things that scared the hell out of me about having a child came true in my life, when it was never my intetion to ever have kids.!! Now, he's going to be a dad.... here we go again !!

    I wanted kids and equality - Athena - Dec 4th 2010

    When I first got married, neither one of us were sure if we wanted kids.  Later, I felt my "maternal clock" ticking but needed to feel stable financially first.   A few years later my husband at the time also decided he wanted kids.  We ended up having our first when I was 39 and our second at age 42.  I don't think I appreciated ahead of time how much work it would be, especially when I had continued on in a demanding career, working from home for the first 9 months each time.  

    I had a Nanny at first, paid entirely out of my own pocket, those were the good years because it was like I had a "wife" to help me.  Then I had to let her go because not only was their Dad not pulling his weight around the house but he decided to completely slack off by quitting his job and running a money losing "consulting business" as he called it.  (I called it his mistress - cost lots of money, took his time away from his family and real work, was hazardous to our health and disastrous for our marriage).

    When I started to come apart at the seams, it was then that women would comment, "you should have known all the work would fall on your shoulders, you should have known that men just aren't good at domestic stuff, or child rearing, or organizing the household.  When my marital lawyer asked me, "Well, what did you expect?", I replied, "Actually I expected equality".  To that she replied "Well, you never should have married or had kids then".  Well, that just about says it all.  That accelerated my downward spiral to a depth of despair I didn't know I was capable of and to this day I am still clawing my way out of it.

    Were I to do it all over again, and assuming i did not want to give up my career, i would hire a Nanny, go to a sperm bank and have a boyfriend that I was madly in love with who likes kids.  That way, I'd get a "wife", some kids and perhaps some equality!  If things didn't work out, we'd just simply go our own separate ways - no obligation to support a total deadbeat, no losing half my assets while getting half his debts, no custody battles, just instant freedom.   

    MYOB - Lorrie - Dec 3rd 2010

    Everyone needs to mind their own business.  I have a lot of respect for people who decide not to have children.  So many people have children out of obligation and are crappy parents.  So many children are abused and neglected because they resent the child.  Why in the world should anyone have to feel pressure to have children.  It is actually selfish to put that expectation onto anyone. 

    Child free by choice - Trish - Dec 3rd 2010

    I once thought something was wrong with me because I didn't have the maternal feelings that my friends were starting to have. I never had the slightest desire to have children and I had always been taught that every woman wanted children and that it was the natural progression of your life. As I got older I got more comfortable with myself and realized that I didn't have to have children just because society said I should. As a matter of fact, I thought it would be wrong to have children since I didn't really want them. It wouldn't be fair to the children. Over the past few years I've spoken to several women in their 50s and older who never wanted children. Those who did not have children are happy with their lives. Those who did have children because it was expected, wish they hadn't. Don't get me wrong. Those women are great mothers and love their children, but they know enough about themselves to know they are not living the life they wanted to live. I think it is wonderful that society is moving beyond the traditional lifestyles that many people were forced into and instead is allowing people to live their lives in the way best suited to them.

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